Meet Missouri's Next Poet Laureate—Maryfrances Wagner

Updated: Sep 26

By Annie Newcomer:

Maryfrances Wagner

Governor appoints Salvatore's Daughter

as Missouri's Next Poet Laureate.

When I opened my email from the Missouri Arts Council and saw that the state's governor had tapped Maryfrances Wagner for the position of Missouri's 6th poet laureate, continuing a line of respected poet laureates from the Show Me State, I smiled. One of my favorite quotes, "Chance favors the prepared mind," flashed before me because I cannot imagine a person who has better prepared herself to take on this role, with all the challenges that are in store for her as our country sputters out of a pandemic. Maryfrances is an esteemed poet, a masterful storyteller, as well as a tireless advocate in her literary community whose profound love of her extensive Italian-American family illuminates her work.

But what exactly is a poet laureate?

The term laureate means "the recipient of honor or recognition for achievement in an art or science." But successfully filling the shoes of a poet laureate actually means so much more. The person designated this honor makes a commitment to not only continue their own walk with poetry but offer ways for bringing others into the poetic fold. A poet laureate wears many hats: wordsmith, storyteller, motivator, and promoter. To be successful in this role, one needs to be imaginative, caring, creative, and in love with not only the rhyme and imagery in Life's words but for the people, the audience, who daily sing Life's song. A poet laureate is a good role model who sets the table with the goal of inviting others in. So a poet laureate is not just good at one thing; a poet laureate is the triathlete of the Literary World, triply blessed in unimaginable ways to most laypeople.

August 10, 2021, marked the 200th anniversary of Missouri's entrance into the Union as the 24th state. The bicentennial is both a time for celebration and a time of reflection. Poetry is a vehicle to connect the past, understand the present, and contemplate the future. So this was a fitting day for our new poet laureate to read her inaugural poem, "Missouri"—a poem inspired by the natural beauty of the state created to celebrate this occasion and performed on the steps of the capitol in Jefferson City. Present in the audience was the

magnificent sun, bright in its blessing. One cannot help but wonder if this was Nature's way of beaming its approval down on this new appointee.

The chorus frogs creee
and trill. I stretch my arms to the cave state,
start of the Pony Express, rolling hills
and river bluffs, prairie and plateau, earth
solid beneath my feet

This interview is my response, as an observer on the sidelines, to show you why I believe

Missourians are in store for a wonderful two years with this poet, Salvatore's daughter, who

describes her father's hands as:

"the flat grooved nails/hand's that fixed the doll's arms,/
mended Wisker's ears, checked homework."

AN: Maryfrances, welcome to Flapper Press and congratulations on becoming Missouri's 6th Poet Laureate. What I love about the concept of a poet laureate is that an esteemed poet with literary chops agrees to go out and engage in the community and share about this often misunderstood gem, poetry. Might you express to our Flapper Press readers what this honor means to you?